A television audience monitoring scheme is under development in Saudi Arabia, after its Gulf neighbour the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced it has embarked on the first TV ratings system of its kind in the Arab world.

A prominent figure at the Gulf-based Advertisers Business Group (ABG) told Abu Dhabi newspaper The National that a new scheme to measure viewing figures in Saudi Arabia will be available by September 2012.

The Kingdom is currently the third largest advertising market but, like elsewhere in the Middle East, there is no way yet of pinpointing how many people watch different television channels and when.

"We would expect that to land [about] or just after Ramadan next year … in terms of live ratings being available to the market," David Porter, media director, Unilever Middle East and North Africa and board member of the ABG was quoted as saying in The National.

Mr Porter reportedly told the newspaper ABG, along with consultants Oliver Wyman, have been in talks with the Saudi Ministry of Information to participate in the TV audience monitoring system.

Total domestic advertising spending across all media platforms reached US$1.2 billion last year, according to the Pan Arab Research Centre (PARC). The amount spent on television advertising would certainly be expected to rise if an audience measurement system was adopted.

Mr Porter also pointed to the benefits to regional TV schedules, if broadcasters had a more accurate idea of which were their most popular shows.

"What's sorely missing in the TV industry in the region is great, professional programming scheduling,” he is quoted as saying in The National. “And you just can't do that without virtually live ratings.

"The vast bulk of most stations' programming budgets are spent in creating Ramadan schedules,” he added. “Not to have any idea of your return on investment in terms of audience, let alone ad revenues, must be debilitating for most TV stations. I think that is one of the driving forces behind this [initiative]."

Rebecca Hawkes | 01-07-2011